Author // Nick

Places We Love: Jagajee & Bar Fry in Chiang Mai

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This has to be the best place to eat in Chiang Mai. The owner is a Thai who worked and studied in Germany. His European influence is noticeable on the menu and in the decor. But don’t let it fool you. This guy loves Thailand. All of the products he uses for his dishes are local, and are the foundation for his ever-changing menu. He visits the local market every morning and based on what he finds there, he makes up a menu daily. My favorite tapas was the gnocchi, so simple yet so tasteful. He’s always up for a chat, so if you’ve got any questions about one of his dishes, his ingredients or his business’, ask away (provided he’s not swamped, leave him alone in that case).

Next door is Bar Fry, owned by the same guy. They sell high-end French fries. The fries are seriously delicious and come with a great variety of sauces. Being from Holland, we love fries and we hadn’t had decent fries for a long time and these were such a treat. You can order fries while eating at Jagajee.

“We are a simple, but true eatery, trying to tickle your taste buds with tapas from fresh seasonal and locally grown products with minimal seasoning to taste the nature of our tapas.” This is one of the writings on the wall of Jagajee (which means ‘tickling’ in Thai) and it pretty much sums up the food. Great, fresh products made into the best tapas you can find in Asia.

Jagajee Tapas Restaurant / Bar & Bar Fry
1/1 Nimmanhaemin Road Soi 15
(Jagajee is on the main road, near the corner of Soi 15)
Chiang Mai, Thailand.

When You Have Nothing to Say About Angkor Wat

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We couldn’t come up with anything that hasn’t been said about Angkor Wat, so we are just going to post our drafts (which we still edited, it was a lot worse). The rough drafts for our posts are usually full with shits and fucks, other profanities and things we find funny but are kind of inappropriate. Occasionally I have a bad mood and I wrote all of this in one such moods.

  • We did Angkor Wat during the time when we were still listening to the dumb things other people tell you so we woke up at 4 in the morning to go and see this magnificent sunrise. We are not morning people. Wake us before we want to be awake and we will have a bad mood. A really bad mood. And there’s two of us which makes it worse. We had expected a tranquil temple, the sun rising behind it and the whole scenery mirroring in the still ponds in front of the temple. However, the tranquility was somewhat disturbed by a couple hundred Chinese (for God’s sake, we thought we were rid of you) and Japanese tourists.
  • We made it through until the sun came up without using the jungle knife Angela always carries concealed in her panties.
  • After sunrise we told our tuktuk driver to find us a quiet spot and he managed to find some spots not infested by more than thirty people at a time, and at some places we actually found ourselves alone, making for a somewhat more pleasant experience, if you don’t count the heat and the fucking mosquitoes.
  • After a temple or eighteen and some walking in the sweltering sun we were kind of done with all the goddamn temples and couldn’t wait to see some modern architecture again, so we had ourselves escorted back to Siem Reap, hungry, tired and so fucking sweaty.

We actually did have an amazing day. We have the pictures to show it!  We promise to be nice again in our next post.

Chinese Architecture and Puking in a Trashcan


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What’s the absolute worst thing you can imagine could happen when you’ve almost had it with a country and can’t wait to leave? You get food poisoning and get stuck in the most humid wet dirty shithole of a Chinese city you could have stumbled into. Meet Nanning. We love great architecture and old buildings, every Chinese city has loads of both. Not Nanning.

We walked around Nanning for an hour, looking for our hostel. We are pretty sure after an hour the news we had arrived had spread like wildfire. The staring was definitely the worst in Nanning. Or maybe I was hallucinating from the food I ate on the train.

As we were walking, my health was quickly deteriorating and I was feeling worse and worse by the minute. By the time we found another hostel I was sweating like a pig and nauseous like I’d never been before.  While checking in I was practically throwing up in my mouth and my mood wasn’t getting much better. I bounded to our room as if the pope was hot on my heels, trying to pull me under his tabard.

I had barely opened the door before I started throwing up violently. There was no sink, so the trashcan was receiving like it never had before. After that, I was sick for three days. I shouldn’t have eaten that food on the train, it’s quite clear to me now.

Angela cared for me like a little angel. The first day she brought me a slice of pizza, some chicken wings and yoghurt. I quickly disposed of the fat stuff, and the smell of it laying in the trashcan had me quickly follow it with what was left of my stomachs contents. This went on for three days, three days of extreme humidity, vomit and yoghurt. We were so incredibly ready to leave China.

In all of the Chinese cities we visited we snapped a lot of shots of buildings we liked. Chinese architecture is a style on its own. There is such a big difference between the old and the new. The old buildings are, well..old and super Chinese. Like out of a movie. The new buildings are super new and fancy.  None of them are Nannings’, there is just not a lot to be seen there worthy taking a picture of.

After all this ranting about China of ours, you’re probably wondering if we enjoyed anything about the country at all. We did. Beijing’s Dashilar hutong was great, we absolutely loved Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter and it’s food and Dali was very nice to us as well.

Have you ever puked in a trashcan or have you visited China? Let me know below!

Penguin Ghetto in Chiang Mai

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And it had nothing to do with penguins. Well, maybe a little bit. But it had everything to do with our two favorite things: good coffee/tea and good design.

Last month we spent most of our time indoors. Which is ridiculous considering we’re in Thailand. We were working  in our Chiang Mai apartment. Every couple of days we would crawl out of our apartment and work someplace else.

Our go-to-place to work was Penguin Ghetto. Coolest name in the world to be honest. It’s a small coffee place in the north of Chiang Mai, and it’s run by an architectural bureau, NOTDS (none other than design studio). NOTDS had some space left in their office building and they turned it into Penguin Ghetto. The first time we had coffee at Penguin Ghetto, we had no idea it was part of NOTDS and we were amazed by a place this cool at this location. We were admiring the design of the building as much as our coffee.

The interior of Penguin Ghetto is black and white (like a penguin!). The whole outside of the building has been covered with a layer of recycled pallets, giving it an organic look. Penguin Ghetto uses chairs, stools and tables by local designers. They also display work from two designers that live across the street from them. They even have their own coffee, another reason these guys are awesome.

NOTDS is composed of five architects, all in their early thirties. We’ve met Ekaphap Duangkaew, one of the architects. He told us how they came up with Penguin Ghetto and how it was created. It was a cafe that functioned as a waiting room for their clients. The cafe quickly gained popularity among local students, and is now often busy. This could be because of the awesome name, the damn fine coffee (I liked the ‘ghetto coffee’) or the incredible building. Or all of the above.

Right across the road from Penguin Ghetto is linnil‘s studio. She sells some of her notebooks at Penguin Ghetto, which is how we found out about her. We liked her stuff right away. She also happens to be super nice and a super talented designer.

Linnil makes notebooks, bags, and loads more stuff. We absolutely loved all of her notebooks and wish we bought more of them. You can check out her work on her Facebook page! She’s also selling her products in Bangkok’s Art and Culture Center, which is worth a visit if you’re around. She shares her workplace with her boyfriend, who has his own design studio: 3.2.6. Studio. They work and live together, making super cool pieces of art. If you’re ever around, please go say hi and check out the nice stuff they create!

Landscape of Mongolia: Skulls

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There is something magical about the landscape of Mongolia. It calls for you to come and explore. The landscape constantly transforms, leaving you breathless from the moment you wake up until the moment you crawl back into your gertent.

This is a collection of the skulls I found while exploring. Click here for more incredible pictures of the landscape of Mongolia.

5 Reasons Why You’ll love Chinese Train Travel

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We’ve done all of our traveling in China by train and we absolutely loved it. China has one of the most extensive train networks in the world and you can explore almost every corner of China by train. Doing so will get you great views, convenience, decent comfort, cheap travel and a brief look into the everyday Chinese life. Here are five reasons why you will love train travel in China!

Train travel gets you some of the best views of China you can get

Lush valleys, misty rice paddies in full growth or during harvest, gargantuan cityscapes, bamboo forests in the south of China, dramatic mountain scenes, stretches of desert in the north of China, gigantic rivers meandering through the land, there is simply no end to the list of things we saw from China’s trains. We’ve been amazed again and again by the beauty of China. China’s landscape, as seen from a train, is ever-changing. The views just keep on coming.

Train travel in China is convenient and easy

Almost every train station of the larger cities in China has at least one ‘English-speaking’ ticket booth. This means that with a lot of pointing on our side and some broken English on the other side of the window you’ll get the tickets. What always helped me was a guidebook or a note with the Chinese characters for my destination on it. Your hotel/hostel staff won’t mind writing such a note for you if you ask. The ticket-seller has a monitor facing your way with all the information on it, like date of the ticket, prices, train number and departure/arrival time.

The signage in Chinese train stations is always clear enough make out where the train is leaving, in what waiting room you have to wait and at what time you are expected to stumble onto the train. If you are ever in doubt, just follow the herd that gets up as your train is announced.

Chinese train-stations will generally be in the center of the city, and I always make sure to pick our hostel or hotel strategically, so we can either walk there or take a short bus ride. This is great compared to airports, which are usually located 10+ km outside of cities.
There are lots of different classes in Chinese trains all the way from ‘deluxe soft sleeper’ to ‘hard seat’. Deluxe soft sleeper is a private cabin with two beds and sometimes even a toilet and a sink. This class is offered on only a very small percentage of Chinese trains, so you’ll be very lucky to find one every time. Hard seat can be as spartan as wooden benches, but usually they’re just regular train seats in a not air-conditioned carriage.

In all day time trains I’ve taken so far, I always had a soft seat. These carriages are air-conditioned and not as busy as the hard seat carriages.

I also took a night train several times and I can recommend it. It saves you some money on a night in a hotel and it’s comfortable enough. As a couple, we opted for hard sleeper every time, and it’s fine. It’s six beds in an open compartment. Three beds above each other, facing another three beds. We only had a snorer once or twice and earplugs work fine in that situation. Watch out for the tiny, frail grandma’s though, they fart a lot and it isn’t pretty.

You can pick the berth (lower, middle or upper) when you get your ticket. I liked the middle berths best as they have lots more space than the upper berths. The upper berths are a quite cramped. The lower berths will seat the other people in your cabin until it’s sleepy-time (lights go out at 22:00 and on again at 7:00). The lower berths are a lot more spacious though and Angela prefers those. You get clean sheets and pillowcases every time. If not, complain with the train-attendant as they probably just didn’t feel like changing them.

Do some grocery shopping before you get on the train. In some trains there’s a dining cart, or train-attendants will come by with a food cart. I ate the food served on two separate occasions. The first time it was delicious. So naturally I took it again on the next trip. It gave me food poisoning. You can’t pick, they just serve one dish, or maybe two. The price should be on the cart, make sure you don’t pay too much, I speak from experience here.

There were some telltale signs the second time, I should have used my common sense. The first time it was served by a fresh-looking lady, with a clean uniform, from a well-kept food cart. The second time however, the food was served by a grumpy teen in (very!) dirty cooks garments, that obviously hadn’t been washed for a while. The cart was a little rusty, my rice was overcooked and the meat was undefinable. The first time it was clearly chicken, but I’m still completely in the dark as to what I’ve eaten the second time. That’s an common occurrence in China though.

The toilets in Chinese trains are squat toilets. After a little practice these are actually more hygienic than Western-style toilets because you don’t have to touch anything while you’re using them. Make sure to bring some toilet paper as it’s  always out.

Train travel in China is cheap

We got our train tickets at a fraction of the prices of flights. For example, a hard sleeper middle berth ticket from Beijing to Xi’an costs RMB265, which is around €31,- with current exchange rates, and that’s for 1,200 kilometers of train travel! That same trip by plane ranges from RMB777 (€93,-) to RMB1300 (€156,-).

Make sure to bring your passports when you go buy train tickets. We forgot them once. We were in Beijing and it was Golden Week. It was horrifying. It was our first time buying a train ticket in China and it had cost us an hour and a half to get from our hostel to the train station (always go to the train station to buy tickets, travel agents and hotels/hostels will charge you extra), about 45 minutes waiting in line, 15 minutes of discussing the specifics of our tickets with a stressed out ticket seller only to be asked for our passports. We nearly shit ourselves. By the time we got back at the English-speaking booth with our passports, around two and a half hours later, it was closed. We had to wait in line at the information desk for another half hour to get the number of the new English-speaking booth. The tickets we wanted were sold out by that time, so we had to get hard seat tickets, for an overnight train journey of around 14 hours. We survived though.

After that, we took a night train several times and we found it convenient to know the Chinese signs for the lower (下铺), middle (中铺) and upper berth (上铺) when you’re buying tickets, so you can specify which berth you want. They differ a little in price, with the lower being the most expensive, and the upper the cheapest. The soft sleeper is around RMB200 more expensive than the hard sleeper. You get a compartment with a door and only an upper and lower berth for that.

Train travel in China gets you an inside look in everyday Chinese life

As much as the Chinese stare at you on the train, or everywhere else, it’s fun to watch them go about their business. The Chinese are very social people and will often engage in conversation with each other (about you). It doesn’t necessarily sound nice to our Western ears, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. Chinese often shout in conversation, or just stop halfway through a sentence to retch and spit. It’s so completely different from our standards of human interaction that it’s very interesting to watch.

All in all, I loved train travel in China for these reasons and we know for sure you will too. Did you travel by train in China? What were your experiences? Did you love it or hate it? Let us know in the comments!

Feeling like Robinson Crusoe on Crusoe Island

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How we spent five days on the amazing Koh Ta Kiev

Ever since we first met we have been celebrating New Year’s on memorable places. Our first New Years was in Barcelona, we had only know each other for two months and this was our first trip together. Our second New Year’s was in a little hut in the middle of nowhere.
Angela fell asleep before midnight and when she woke up it was 00.30, having missed everything. It was one of the coldest New Year’s ever with -12 C. There was only one small wood burner which failed in heating the little hut. On top of that, there was something in the hut that made me really allergic. I was sneezing, feeling sick, it was super cold and we were in the middle of nowhere. It was horrible, but memorable.

This New Year’s eve plans formed in a busy alley in Saigon. We were sitting in the sun, enjoying our Vietnamese coffee. There was a unoccupied plastic stool next to us on which a South-African guy sat down. After the usual where-you-from-where-you-going-chat, he told a story of an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere in Cambodia with hammocks on the beach and just a handful of people. Not thinking too much of it in early November, we wrote it down and forgot about it until some time later.

A few weeks later, the end of December was creeping in closer and we knew that we had to book something  if we didn’t want to get stuck in Siem Reap for Christmas and New Year’s. After shopping around a little on the usual hostel-websites we suddenly remembered the South-African guy and his hammock island. So we did some Googlin’ around and we were sold right away.

The place we were told about so many weeks ago in Saigon is Crusoe Island, and it’s one of three guesthouses on the island, Koh Ta Kiev. Crusoe Island is a place Robinson himself would’ve liked. It’s basic, it’s sandy, there’s bamboo, there’s jungle, it’s great. Crusoe Island is run by Liam, with amazing staff (Hi Talu and Jake!). Liam is a relaxed Australian guy who has set up Crusoe Island only a short while ago. He is not planning to make this in to a big fancy resort, thank God. If you want to visit Crusoe Island, you can make a booking on Liam’s website. (We were not sponsored, just really liked it!)

Crusoe Island has its own boat. Pick up is from one of the Sihanoukville beaches on the Crusoe boat. It takes about an hour to get to the island. Sitting in the sun with the wind in your hair, sailing along the Sihanoukville coastline is a good way to start any adventure on an uninhabited jungle island.

A night in a tent at Crusoe Island will cost you $5 with tent, mattress and pillows included. You can pitch your tent anywhere you like, Liam will tell you how big the probability of your tent being washed away is in the spot where you initially want to pitch it. We moved three times in the five days we were on the island. If you are willing to take the time to explore Crusoe Island’s part of Koh Ta Kiev there are amazing camping spots to be found. If you hate camping there are four bungalows you can rent, in varying prices and sizes. You can also just rent a hammock for $2 if you want to go survival style.

After pitching your tent there’s a whole lot of stuff to do on Koh Ta Kiev. There are lots of hammocks in Crusoe Island’s base camp where you can hang out, play cards, have a good conversation. read a book or everyone’s favorite: get high. Places like Koh Ta Kiev attract great people and you’re sure to meet someone interesting there. We met a great Dutch girl who was visiting with her 4 year old kid. They’d been traveling together through Thailand and Cambodia for two months. There are so many people who would never take that leap and travel that long and so far away from home with a little kid, and yet it can be so immensely educative for a child, we think every should do it. This little guy was speaking English and interacting with everyone and  he had learned so much more than school can ever teach a 4 year old

If you’re feeling all ‘Dora the Explorer’ you can go for a walk around the island. There are two other guesthouses down the coast, one is Cambodian run, the other is ran by a French dude. At one of those guesthouses is a guy making his own absinthe which once led to a liquor-fueled orgy right on the beach of Crusoe Island.

If you want to have the feeling you’re all by yourself, washed up on a truly uninhabited island, you can find a really secluded spot to pitch your tent and build things. There’s always some stuff to be found in the flotsam that you can use. I built a swing out of bamboo and rope when we were there.

The days we spent on Koh Ta Kiev were perfect. Waking up at sunrise with only the sound of the waves, coming scarily close to your tent. Spending days on our private beach, shared only with crabs, crawling out of their holes and running towards the sea. Seeing several ant colonies relocate. Skinny dipping at six in the morning, watching the sunrise. We loved it. Whenever you’re in Cambodia, go check it out! Koh Ta Kiev is amazing.

The Best Places to Drink Coffee in Dali

China’s most laid back city is Dali, we liked it and that’s probably why we’ve spent two weeks in Dali working. And with work comes coffee. One of us is an avid coffee drinker and the other is crazy about tea, we’re always happy to find a good cup of either in the cities we work. China is famous for its tea and you can get it everywhere, finding a good cup of tea is easier than finding a decent cup of coffee. We have spent many hours finding good coffee  in Dali and this are the three places we loved most.

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1. Unknown

Ok, I realize it’s a bummer I can’t remember the name of the place in Dali where I liked the coffee best. I’ve tried finding it online, to no avail. Luckily for you however, I still know what street it’s on and the general location on said street. Angela made a map to show you where it is.

From the outside it looks like a regular European café, big window, with a door to the left. The window frame is painted a light shade of blue and you can see a lot of plants behind the window. It looks kind of hippie-esque, but so does every bar in Dali. You should see the bar behind the door. It looks pretty dark from the street.

The coffee and espresso served here is made with a classic, the percolator. Because of this it can take up to 10 minutes before your coffee is served, but it is great coffee, the strongest I’ve had in Dali. The tea served is made from dried tea leaves, no pre-packaged tea here. It’s tea from the region and bought on the market. Fresh, organic produce can come with some unwanted friends. Angie  found a tiny caterpillar on her mint leaves. She refused to drink any more tea the following week.

Like all the places on this list, they offer free WiFi.

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2. Bakery 88

The coffee here is pretty good but what makes this place truly great are its sandwiches. After a couple of weeks in China you’ll find yourself with a craving for decent bread, cheese and meats. I sure did. Bakery 88 is the place to go if you want a taste of home while in Dali. They have different kinds of bread here, all home-baked. The whole-wheat nut bread goes great with old cheese, and I loved my BLT. They also sell home-made jams and imported olive oil.

You can pick whatever kind of bread you want for your sandwich. The pastry, pies and cookies are also very tasty. The cheeses and meats are mostly imported from Europe. The cheese is really good!

We couldn’t find a website for Bakery 88, so here’s the TripAdvisor review page: Bakery 88

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3. Black Dragon Cafe

Another lunchroom-style café we loved was  the Black Dragon Cafe. We both get a literary hard-on when we see books and this place is full of it. They’ve got plenty of new books for sale, and shelves full of second-hand books you can either read there or buy.

They’ve got a decent coffee, and the tea here is amazing. They’ve got a tea called ‘Black Dragon Eight Treasures Tea’, with marigold, globe amaranth, jasmine, peppermint, orange zest, Chinese date, goji berry and rose leaves. It looks cool, the taste is special. The rest of the menu looks good. We had some home-made pie and cookies when we were there and they were delicious.



The Best Place to Eat in China: Xi’an Muslim Quarter

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I should make a statement here about how much I love food, but it seems a bit inane since everybody loves food. I’ve never met anyone that said to me: ‘You know what Nick, I really hate food, I hate eating, I’d rather sew my mouth shut and never eat again’. So I’m not going to tell you how much I like food, and I’m not going to tell you that if you love food as much as me, you should go to Xi’an.

The Muslim Quarter

Most people go to Xi’an as a transport hub to visit the Terracotta Army, but Xi’an has so much to offer.

The Muslim Quarter is home to the majority of Chinese Muslims living in China today. It’s full of tiny alleyways, mosques, markets and street vendors. There are so many impressive sights, sounds, smells and flavors in the Muslim Quarter, we spent days and days there to take it all in, but the food was the thing that made us come back every day.

The markets of the Muslim Quarter

The main market most tourists stumble over when they first enter the Muslim Quarter behind Xi’an’s Drum Tower. You can buy everything the Muslim Quarter has to offer right there on the first street, but what would be the fun in that. We love to explore and that’s what we did.

The main market is huge, spanning over dozens of streets. The food you can have there is so amazing, we’re still dreaming about it. One of our favorites was fried tortilla-like pancakes, stuffed with veggies, meat or mushroom. So good, I can’t even describe it to you. I can show you some pictures though.

We arrived in Xi’an during Golden Week, which we have talked about in length before. Traveling during Golden Week is hellish, and it was very busy in Xi’an that week. I’m not sure if that was necessarily a bad thing though. It did help the vendors get rid of their wares, and thus made sure you always got fresh food. It never had a chance to lay there for more than a few minutes, which made all the great food even better.

One of the things that still visits our sweetest dreams is an amazing kind of candy/pastry they sold. I contacted an expat blogger from Xi’an to find out what it’s called and loosely translated the Chinese call it ‘Walnut Flaky Food’ (核桃酥) or ‘Peanut Flaky Food’ (花生酥). It was amazing. I was speechless for over a minute the first time I tried it, and I’ve eaten a lot of the stuff after that first time. I never grew tired of it. It’s best described as a kind of puff pastry, but instead of dough, built up out of layers of crispy caramelized sugar, laced with nuts. We tried to send a box home for my dad’s birthday, as I was sure he’d love it as much as I did, but sadly the Chinese Post wouldn’t let us send food. I have grand plans involving containers full of the stuff shipped home.

We were also amazed by the amount of dried fruit, walnuts, dates, jujubes and other stuff. It all looked and tasted amazing. The beautiful look of all the dried fruits added so much to the experience. The sheer amount of quail eggs being sold is incredible. Those things are a luxury item in the Netherlands, so it was very surprising to see them in such abundance at a Chinese street market. They sold the quail eggs fried, five on a stick, with a peanut sauce. Delicious!

Have you visited Xi’an? How did you like the food?


The Dwarf Empire: Ethics of the Kingdom of the Little People

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There are several crazy stories going around about China and the things Chinese do. Eating babies, among others. Most of these are hoaxes. The Dwarf Empire however, is not a hoax. It exists. It’s a village built for and inhabited by vertically challenged people, or dwarfs. It also goes by the name of the Kingdom of the Little People and it’s a theme park located near Kunming, that features performances by people with dwarfism. The correct term for anyone with dwarfism is: a person/people of short stature. I’ll say dwarf, as it’s shorter.

Quote from the Dwarf Empire flyer:

The biggest Dwarves Empire in the world, Dwarfs Empire is the magical refuge for the small people who now can live their lifes in peace, away from big city and also big people. Here they can able to be united and do the one thing that make them most happy: to sing and dance for you, spreading for you their Universal Love!

The Kingdom of the Little People is the brainchild of Chen Mingjing, a wealthy and flamboyant real estate investor. At the age of 44, he decided he no longer wanted to make money just for the sake of making money, he wanted to do something else with his life. Chen wanted to do good. So he did what anyone with a right mind would have done: he opened a dwarf theme park. According to Chen, the Dwarf Empire is a rare opportunity for dwarfs to find work and respect.

The current situation in China

Supporters of the park claim that it provides employment to people who would otherwise be unable to find work, but it has been criticized for treating dwarfism as a humorous condition. These opinions are pretty black and white. I think there’s a lot more to it. Read on to see what.

Attitudes toward disabled folk are getting a little better since China hosted the Paralympics along with the Olympics in 2008. This has moved disabled people into the view of the government. Healthcare and support for disabled people have improved since. However many of the Chinese still regard all disabled people as freaks. In smaller communities and bigger cities alike all around China they are often left without employment, healthcare, housing or any other help, ostracized by neighbors and stared at in the streets.

Many disabled people in China are degraded to beggars or to scrounge garbage dump sites. There’s just no one that will hire or help them. The Chinese are a very superstitious people, and some believe having a disabled around brings bad luck to a household. It sounds like the Middle Ages, but do not forget that even though Asia is in some fronts further advanced than Western countries, it lacks severely on others like healthcare and education.

Working at the dwarf empire

At the moment the Kingdom employs well over a 100 people. There are two requirements for being employed at the Dwarf Empire: you need to be aged between 19 and 48, and no taller than 130 centimeters to qualify for a job. The park receives 3 to 4 job applications every week from all over China. This does not necessarily mean the theme park is a popular employer among people of short stature, but I think it points out the bad job opportunities for disabled in China.

The employees of the Dwarf Empire pretend to live in the small, mushroom-shaped houses during the performances. In reality, they live in nearby dormitories, specially constructed for people of short stature. All necessary facilities are available. The employees are given English lessons and counseling/therapy during their employment. Even speed-dating sessions are being held among the employees of the park.

The employees make around ¥1000, or around €150 a month, including housing. University graduates in China make significantly less. Does this make up for the fact that these people essentially live in a freak show? Hard to say. Some interviewed employees claim to be genuinely happy.

They are proud to have a job where they are not extorted by their employers, they are proud they have learned to perform, and believe they entertain people by their skills, instead of how they look. They are proud for even having a job at all. They do not feel like they are living in a zoo. Many employees are happy to live and work with other people of short stature, they feel at home among themselves. They feel they gain self-respect by being able to provide for themselves and their family. According to the few interviewed dwarfs a fair share of current employees of the park had been considering suicide before they came to live at the park, and feel happy now.

So what about it?

I’m still in doubt. Is the Dwarf Empire a good thing or not? It’s a very ambiguous subject. There are obviously benefits to the place for its employees. Many of them lead good lives, happy to be among people they can relate too. Of course there is reason for critique as well. There is a semblance with a 1920’s freak show. People don’t visit the Dwarf Empire to admire the dwarfs’ dancing skills. But according the Kingdom’s inhabitants, they don’t really care. They are proud of their jobs, and their lives. There are lots of Western organizations that do not condone this park, but the question is whether these organizations look at the individuals involved and the dire circumstances some of these people have had to face before coming to the Kingdom of the Little People.

How much exactly can the Little People of America foundation say about the lives of people of short stature in a country that’s so vastly different from theirs in so many ways? The people working and living at the Dwarf Empire will probably never (at least not in their lifetimes) be accepted into China’s mainstream society, will never be given decent jobs, will never have equal opportunities. It’s unfair, but in the Dwarf Empire they are at least with like-minded people they can relate with. I respect the employees of the Dwarf Empire for making this choice for themselves. Their employment is voluntary, and they can quit when they want. The injustice that’s driven them to the Dwarf Empire is far greater than the injustice that’s being done to them there.

As long as rights for all humans in China are not up to par with those in Western countries, I believe the Kingdom of the Little People might be a safe haven for its inhabitants. So in this case, the ethics of this place may be related to human rights in China. As they change, ethics change. Ethics aren’t static, you need to view them through the specific characteristics of a region, that region’s culture and that regions development. I think anyone fighting the battle against the Dwarf Empire is fighting the wrong battle. Human rights in China should be your priority.

I’d love it if you share your thoughts! Respond in the comments section below.